Fishermen bag state record alligator at Eagle Lake

Published 11:42 am Wednesday, September 21, 2011

In Mississippi hunting circles, it’s well known that the biggest alligators live in the Mississippi River.

The biggest of them all lived in Warren County.

Four fishermen from Brandon — Jody Fortenberry, Jake Ponder, Clinton Stennett and Brian Jackson — hauled in a state-record 690-1⁄2 pound gator while hunting Saturday. The gator was caught on private land in the Belle Island Hunting Club, west of Eagle Lake.

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The catch shattered the record for the heaviest gator ever caught in Mississippi, a 636-pounder from the Pascagoula River in 2008. Other big gators have been caught — including one estimated at more than 900 pounds in Issaquena County last year — but their weights were not certified by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

“This is the largest that’s been certified,” said Ricky Flynt, coordinator of the MDWFP’s alligator program. “There were a couple gators last year that would’ve easily topped out over 800 pounds, but we couldn’t get them weighed.”

The Belle Island gator was truly a beast. It measured 12 feet, 7 inches long, was 601⁄2 inches around at the belly and 423⁄8 inches around at the tail.

Jackson, whose name is on the hunting permit, will be considered the record-holder by the MDWFP. There’s no doubt, however, that landing the gator, nicknamed “Gus” by Belle Island’s members, was a team effort.

The foursome set out late Friday night and spotted the gator in the wee hours of Saturday morning. They hooked him on a rod and reel, but with just a 100-pound test line attached, it was no easy feat to bring him in.

“You could hear that pole cracking. We set that drag just right to where we tired him out,” Fortenberry said.

Gus did his best to wear out the fishermen, too. He went for cover twice, once in lily pads and later in some trees. He survived five point-blank gunshots to the base of his skull, which is the preferred method for dispatching an alligator. Finally, after three hours of fighting, Fortenberry and his friends worked Gus out into open water and delivered the fatal shot.

Gus sank to the bottom of the lake, and the next challenge began — pulling a nearly 700-pound, 12 ½-foot long beast to the surface and into a 14-foot johnboat. Another hour of fighting got just a portion of the gator into the boat. That was enough to allow the group to tie up Gus’ legs and tow him to shore. They reached the bank with their prize around 5 a.m.

“We were tired after that,” Fortenberry said with a laugh.

They loaded Gus then into a front end loader and packed it with ice. After getting some rest, they hauled it to a nearby truck scale and were amazed at the number that popped up.

“It was jumping between 660 (pounds) and 680. By that time, we knew we were in the ballpark of a state record, so we called the game warden,” Fortenberry said. “They didn’t have anybody who could come measure it. So we put it on a trailer, put a tarp over it and drove to Turcotte.”

The MDWFP’s Turcotte field office is located on Ross Barnett Reservoir. There it was weighed and measured by MDWFP biologists and, even with the loss of some mass to decay and drying, it easily surpassed the record.

Gus’ next stop is back to the area he once called home. Fortenberry said his uncle Mike Poole, who owns the land where Belle Island is located, plans to have the gator mounted and put on display at the hunting club.

“He’s so big that it’s going to be expensive to get a full mount,” Fortenberry said. “So he might get a rug made out of the hide.”